Physiotherapy: Treatment by movement

05 September 2017
Physiotherapy: Treatment by movement
Kimsrea Ton, a physiotherapy volunteer at the Cambodian Physical Therapy Association Clinic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. ICRC/Chandaly Mao

It all started when even basic movement became difficult for her. For many years as a child, Kimsrea Ton used to feel a twinge in her kneecap when walking. She suffered from a weakness in her knee muscles. At the age of 12, Kimsrea went to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship hospital, where she was introduced to physiotherapy – a treatment that captured her interest.

"I stopped feeling pain in my knee and gradually gained my ability to walk freely," she explains. "I then understood the importance of physiotherapy treatment, so I chose the subject as a major in college." Kimsrea eventually enrolled in a three-year associated degree at University of Health Sciences in Phnom Penh. At the time, not many female students had entered into the physiotherapy profession, but it did not stop her.

Kimsrea is now a physiotherapy volunteer at Cambodian Physical Therapy Association Clinic, which is supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

With over 150,000 people with disabilities in Cambodia – many of whom lost limbs to landmines and explosive remnants of war – investing in physiotherapy and improving their physical health is a priority for the Ministry of Health. The ICRC has been supporting the government's efforts through the ICRC's Physical Rehabilitation Programme, which has been running for the past 25 years.

The programme provides appropriate, low-cost artificial limbs, mobility aids and physiotherapy support to people with disabilities. The five-year strategic plan also focuses on the development of physiotherapy services in a comprehensive manner. This means that the ICRC not only provides direct support to individuals with disabilities, but the ICRC also works to strengthen the national health system, and improve the quality of physiotherapy practice and education in Cambodia.

As part of this comprehensive approach, in early 2017, the ICRC offered scholarships to 13 students to pursue physiotherapy studies at the University of Health Sciences in Cambodia. The scholarships were set up through the efforts of the university, along with the Singapore International Foundation and the Cambodian Physical Therapy Association. The long-term aim is to have highly qualified graduates to provide high-quality physiotherapy services to the patients and people with disabilities at the physical rehabilitation centres supported by the ICRC, the physiotherapy school, hospitals and other institutions.

"Cambodia is in need of physiotherapists," said H.E. Vonthanak Saphonn, rector of the University of Health Sciences. "Our hope is to increase the number of physiotherapy professionals to fulfil the current needs and demands."

Battambang, Cambodia. A group of student interns learn to fix an artificial limb.

Battambang, Cambodia. A group of student interns learn to fix an artificial limb. Mine-Ex/Lesley Laver-Imhof

The ICRC aims to complement existing initiatives by ensuring that high-quality clinical services are provided in both prosthetics and orthotics, and physiotherapy.

"Physiotherapy in rehabilitation shouldn't be regarded as an exclusive component in rehabilitation, but should complement the work of the prosthetist and orthotist in the delivery of services as part of a multi-disciplinary team," explains Philip Morgan, the ICRC programme manager for the Physical Rehabilitation Programme.

As for Kimsrea, it has been two years since she started working as a physiotherapist, and she has helped a number of patients regain mobility. "I want to help others, the way I was helped," she claims. "It is worth contributing my skills to make them happy."